The Children’s Rights Alliance launched their ‘Report Card 2018’ at the Mansion House in Dublin yesterday (13/02/2018).
The Report Card assesses the Government’s performance versus some key and measurable commitments in the Programme for Government and it is not intended that the Report Card will assess children’s rights and children who have a disability’s rights in a more general sense. As a result the disability-related content is largely restricted to health and education, with some analysis of poverty. Unfortunately, the family rights of children with a disability are not specifically looked at, meaning that this area of the report card scores relatively highly.
In 2017, the Report Card accused the Government of a barely acceptable performance to date with little or no positive impact on children and awarded them a score of D+. 2018 shows marginal improvement with the grade creeping up to C-.
Right to education: (Grade C)
Speaking at the launch Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos, highlighted the inequalities that children with disabilities experience in the educational system, stating that the right of all children to an education up until the age of 18 “certainly doesn’t exist for children with a disability”.
The Report Card gives an overall grade of C in the area of rights to education, with a grade of B- awarded in the area of disability and additional needs in education, up from last year’s C+.
The modest improvement in grade is an acknowledgement of the implementation of a new resource allocation model and an increase in the number of Special Needs Assistants.
The B- grade could be seen as overly generous however, in light of the Government’s failure to deliver on some of its key promises in the ‘Programme for Partnership Government’.
A commitment to “consult with stakeholders with regard to how best to progress sections of the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 that were introduced on a non-statutory basis” has not been delivered upon bar some consultation on the resource allocation model and the review of the SNA scheme.
The commitment to hold a ‘consultation’ already represented a vague and watered down version of a promise in the previous Programme for Government to put in place “a plan for the implementation of the Education of Persons with Special Education Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 to prioritise access for children with special needs to an individual education plan”. It is in light of this continued watering down of commitments that the failure to deliver is so disappointing.
Right to an adequate standard of living: (Grade D+)
There is sharp criticism of the Government's performance in relation to the right to an adequate standard of living with a drop in grade from last year’s C-. The Report Card deems the performance of the Government in relation to child and family homelessness as unacceptable, taking steps in the wrong direction and with no positive impact on children in awarding an E grade, with no change since last year.
The report notes the worsening situation overall with regard to child and family homelessness but there is no recognition of the particular experience of those with a disability who, according to the Census, are more likely to experience homelessness than non-disabled people and, following a report from the Ombudsman, that medical need and disability weren't always taken into account in the provision of social housing.
Right to Health: C-
The Report Card gives an overall score of C- on Government’s record on ensuring every child can claim their right to the highest possible standard of health.
Positive developments noted included the entitlement to a medical card for children in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance.
A lower score of D+ was awarded in the area of mental health with the report noting the “unacceptable lengthy” waiting lists to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
Children and young people with disabilities often experience barriers in accessing mental health services and very few of the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability teams promised in a Vision for Change have been put in place.
Rights in the Family Environment and Alternative Care: B-
The Report Card awards a B- on the Government’s performance in this area, with a B score in the area of child protection, representing a significant leap from last year’s C grade.
However, a B grade in respect of child protection fails to acknowledge the discrimination currently experienced by children with disabilities in Ireland’s child protection system where children with disabilities are not offered the same protection by the child and family agency, Tusla, as it does to children without disabilities.
Overall, while there was a modest improvement in the grade from the Children’s Right’s Alliance described as “reflecting a satisfactory attempt” it is also clear from the grade that there are “children still left wanting”.
Even with the limited focus of the approach taken by the Report Card, it is clear that the commitments to children with disabilities are weaker and there is less commitment to the rights of children who may need more state support or intervention.